Created by: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
For: Marvel Comics
Currently owned by: Marvel Comics
First appearance: The Incredible Hulk #1
Real identity: Bruce Banner
Flip through the pages of The Incredible Hulk #1 and you’ll find all the familiar elements: mild-mannered scientist Bruce Banner; his gamma-ray experiment; the kid who wanders into the test area and is rescued by Banner; Banner’s exposure to the gamma rays which engender a transformation into a super-strong creature known as the Hulk. But what’s missing? Oh, a minor point: HE ISN’T GREEN! What the hell? No comics character is so strongly associated with a colour as Hulk – not even Green Lantern or Green Arrow, and they’ve got the damn colour in their names. Everything Hulk is green. The DVD case of the 2003 Hulk movie is green. The simple joy of Hulk is his sheer green-ness. He must surely have been conceived as green? But no, in that first issue he’s actually grey. (Or gray, as the Americans would have it.)
The Hulk was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962 following their successful collaboration on Marvel’s first superhero comic, Fantastic Four. Lee cites two main sources of inspiration, both Gothic tales from the 19th century: the basic concept is obviously an update of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, relocated to New Mexico (and with Jekyll’s formula replaced by one of Stan’s beloved radiation-based triggers), but Lee also drew upon Frankenstein for the idea of a misunderstood monster, who is not the villain everyone assumes him to be. Banner’s only allies are Rick Jones, the teenager he saved who continues to help him out of gratitude, and Betty Ross, who doesn’t know that Banner and Hulk are one and the same, but does defend him from her father, General “Thunderbolt” Ross, who regards Banner as a “milksop” and is needlessly aggressive towards him.
Over the opening issues, by way of a series of mishaps and experiments, Lee tinkers with the parameters of the Hulk: initially Banner is human by day and becomes the Hulk at nightfall, but this changes in issue #3. At first the Hulk remains capable of speaking in sentences, then becomes a dumb brute who responds only to the commands of Rick Jones, then changes again to gain the intellect of Banner. And although the original intent was for the creature to be grey, printing difficulties meant the shade of grey was inconsistent throughout the book. In issue #2 the Hulk is green, with no explanation for the change.
The original book lasted just six issues, yet Lee evidently remained keen on the character, giving him guest appearances in other Marvel titles until he returned to his own stories in issue #60 of the anthology Tales To Astonish, now drawn by Steve Ditko. The character gained popularity and became the book’s main attraction: with issue #102 the title was changed to The Incredible Hulk, creating hilarious confusion for future generations of comic collectors. Hulk has remained in print ever since, and in the late 1970s made the leap to television, which sealed his status as a universally-recognised character.
The Hulk endures because he’s a reflection of everything we repress, and anyone can relate to that (especially when the trigger for the change was established as strong emotion). However, he’s also one of the hardest Marvel characters to write well. Conventional crime-fighting superheroes are easy to find new stories for, whereas the Hulk’s tales more often revolve around Banner’s attempts to cure himself, and simply to survive. Unsurprisingly, writers have often sought to generate new material by changing the character in various ways: John Byrne physically separated Banner and Hulk; Al Milgrom brought them back together, bringing back the grey Hulk and the nocturnal transformations in the process; Peter David gave the Hulk Banner’s intelligence (again), and eliminated Banner altogether. In the 1980s, Bruce Banner himself was revealed to have suffered childhood abuse which resulted in his repressed rage. Because that’s what happened if you were a comics character in the 1980s.
It’s David’s run which dominates: taking over the title in 1987 when it was selling poorly, he stayed for over a decade, apparently never short of new Hulk ideas. He reworked the grey Hulk as a Vegas tough-guy going by the name Joe Fixit, and wrote the acclaimed story “Pyrrhic Victor”, in which the grey Hulk and Betty Ross confront each other. In “Honey, I Shrunk The Hulk” he returned to the child abuse storyline and fleshed it out, establishing the Hulk as an expression of Banner’s pre-existing mental problems – and created a fusion of the green and grey Hulks. He even took the bold step of killing Betty, as Banner fails to save her from radiation poisoning. In the final issue of his original run, David flashed forward to the future and wrote his own conclusion to the Hulk’s adventures. Shortly afterwards Bruce Jones contributed a fine run, a sort of low-key take on the TV series, which proved influential on the 2008 movie. Since then the Hulk has been central to developments in the Marvel Universe: Planet Hulk saw him exiled from Earth by other Marvel superheroes, whilst World War Hulk saw his return and revenge.
The key to the Hulk’s success can be seen in the way that people talk about him. You often hear him referenced when someone loses their temper: he’s come to embody the eruption of repressed emotions. We use no other superhero to talk about ourselves in that way. And when we think about our strongest, most deeply buried emotions, do we think of them as grey? No – they’re bright, brash, violent colours. They demand to be noticed and acknowledged. That printing problem was the best thing that ever happened to the Hulk.
It’s been suggested that, if motivated, Hulk’s strength could be limitless. He can run fast, jump high, is very difficult to wound and has enhanced ability to heal.
CAREER LOW POINT
Hulk may be at his lowest right now, actually: after a spell where the comic has been very well-received, the new superstar team of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness have been given the main Hulk book and introduced a new Red Hulk, or “Rulk” if you will. Mystery surrounding the identity of the Red Hulk has been played up, but many readers have been irritated by slow plot development. Even the better reviews have defended it in a “Hey, it’s just good dumb fun” kind of way. The bad reviews, like this from IGN, suggest it’s just bad dumb tedium: “Basically the plot and its characters function on the whims of their writer, and that's honestly the worst type of comic book writing around.”
ON SCREEN APPEARANCES
The Incredible Hulk (TV cartoon)
Voiced by: Paul Sols/Max Ferguson
Hulk was one of five characters presented in The Marvel Super Heroes, a series which ran five nights per week with a different hero every night. Hulk was in the Tuesday slot. These were adaptations of the comics stories, using artwork lifted from their pages and minimal animation.
The Incredible Hulk (TV)
Played by: Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno
This hugely-popular CBS series toned down various elements of the comic to make them workable on TV. Bruce Banner was renamed David Banner, and different actors employed to play Banner and the Hulk: the stories cast Banner as a drifter, helping people and hoping to find a cure. The show was cancelled in 1982 but made a comeback in the late 1980s as three TV movies on NBC.
The Incredible Hulk (TV cartoon)
Voiced by: Michael Bell/Bob Holt
This debuted on NBC just as the live-action TV show was coming to a close. More faithful to the comics than the live-action series had been, the cartoon memorably boasted narration by Stan Lee himself.
The Incredible Hulk (TV cartoon)
Voiced by: Neal McDonough/Lou Ferrigno
Although this version was well-received by fans, it was retitled The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk for its second season and the tone was lightened. Evil Dave Williams out of Desperate Housewives voiced Banner: Lou Ferrigno was BACK as the Hulk. Oh, and Luke Perry played Rick Jones.
Director: Ang Lee
Played by: Eric Bana
In development for over a decade, the Hulk movie finally got off the ground after the success of X-Men. The project went through several script drafts and directors before settling on something that drew on both the early comics and the Peter David issues, to be handled by Ang Lee. For the first time the Hulk was created from a CGI manipulation of the actor playing Bruce Banner – although Lee himself performed some of the motion-capture action.
The Incredible Hulk
Director: Louis Letterier
Played by: Edward Norton
What was originally intended to be a sequel to Hulk, drawing inspiration from the TV show, Bruce Jones’ run on the comic, and the miniseries Hulk: Gray, ended up being one of the quickest reboots in cinema history. A redraft from star Edward Norton tweaked the backstory and made the two films incompatible. Reaction was mixed, but generally the film performed better than its predecessor: a sequel is likely, but not until after The Avengers movie.
• The first-ever appearance of Wolverine was in a mid-70s Hulk storyline
• Dr Dre’s “Some LA Niggaz” references “Bruce Banner” as a term for marijuana
• The Hulk made the cover of Rolling Stone #91 in September 1971
• The Hulk has fought Superman in three Marvel/DC crossovers, in 1981, 1996 and 1999
• There’s an Incredible Hulk-themed roller coaster at Islands of Adventure, Florida
• John Belushi once played the Hulk in a Saturday Night Live skit
The Abomination: KGB agent Emil Blonsky recreated the conditions which created the Hulk, but with double the amount of gamma radiation, to make himself into The Abomination – effectively, the Evil Hulk. The character appeared in the 2008 Incredible Hulk movie.
The Leader : Gamma radiation strikes again, turning ordinary chemical-factory worker Samuel Sterns into The Leader, a malevolent super-genius. He embarked on many nefarious schemes with the aid of his artificial soldiers, the Humanoids. Tim Blake Nelson played Sterns in the 2008 film, and is signed up to reprise the role – this time as the main villain – in the next Hulk film.
General "Thunderbolt" Ross : Ross was overseeing Banner’s gamma ray experiment for the military and took a dislike to Banner, regarding him as soft and even suspecting him of being a Communist. Upon the emergence of the Hulk, Ross made it his job to hunt the creature, and his hobby to be needlessly vindictive towards Banner.
The Absorbing Man : Boxer Carl “Crusher” Creel was transformed into the Absorbing Man, who can take on the properties of anything he touches, when he drank a potion prepared by Loki, the God of mischief. As well as facing Hulk in the comics, he appeared in the TV series and was considered as the villain of the 2003 movie.